The Power of Choice
Choices affect all of our lives. We are always faced with choices. What we do with those choices will determine how are lives will turn out, what destiny lies before us and even what will become of us. The choices we make are in our complete control. Whether we make choices during the heat of the moment or with an open mind there are going to be consequences that follow whether good or bad are can only be blamed on us. Sophocles’s Antigone portrays human emotions and consequences that follow two distinct choices. We can broaden the spectrum by saying that Creon represents public policy and Antigone represents individual conscience. According to E.S. Shuckburgh we must examine which is more important ‘state law or divine conscience’;. (Shuckburgh xviii)
Antigone is a story about two people who choose to make choices that each are passionate about and the consequences that follow. I can argue that the choice made by Antigone was noble and honorable because she was standing up for what she believed in. Antigone was trying to do what she felt was the right. She was standing up for her family. I think that many people would feel the same way in her situation. Antigone wanted to offer her brother the burial that she felt he deserved. Although it did not seem as though she agreed with what her brother had done she did believe in family loyalty.When Antigone approached Ismene with her proposal, Ismene said no. She justified her decision by telling Antigone that they were already punished and that there was no need to make matters worse for the two of them by defying Creon’s law.
Oh my sister, think- think how our own father died, hated,
his reputation in ruins, driven on
by the crimes he brought to light himself
to gouge out his eyes with his own hands-
then mother…his mother and wife, both in one,
mutilating her life in the twisted noose-
and last, our two brothers dead in a single day,
both shedding there won blood, poor suffering boys,
battling out their common destiny hand-to-hand. ( Sophocles 60-69)
Isemene tries to say that herself and Antigone are already living cursed lives why make things worse. I believe that she is speaking out of fear. We all know what’s right and wrong but we don’t always have the courage to do what our heart tells us. All the convincing in the world could not change Antigone’s mind. She has a strong passion for giving her brother a respectful burial. Antigone stands up for her family but also her beliefs. Antigone is not concerned with the edict because, ‘she did not think his edict had such force/ that he, a mere mortal, could override the gods, /the great unwritten, unshakable tradition.’; (Sophocles 503-505) This is the moment when Antigone chooses her personal conscience over state law.
That goes true for our society today isn’t there a little part of everyone that would like to be known for something they accomplished or something that they did? We can
look at Antigone’s role in a broader perspective and say that she stands for our individual conscience. Aren’t we taught to stand up for what we believe in? To stand up for what we
feel is right? Why would you want to let a member of your family rot out in the open? Or to put it into better perspective if your mom is dying of AIDS and the only painkiller is
marijuana would you or wouldn’t you buy the illegal substance for them? I know that I would try to do anything in my power to buy my mother what she needed to relieve her from pain. People
do this sort of thing and there are even people trying to get a law passed that would enable people with terminally ill diseases to use this substance. Do I think that this is right or wrong? I do think that it is wrong to use illegal substances. In the situation where it would help to relieve the pain of my mother I would choose my personal conscience over state law. While Anigone and Creon assumed to know what God wants I do not, and I can only judge the decisions that I make.
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Now there is the other side of the coin that we must examine. We must examine Creon and the choices that he made. Creon made a very hasty decision, which will lead to his destruction. As newly appointed king he makes an edict that prohibits any one from burying Polynices who he deems a traitor, not thinking of the consequences it may bring. Creon’s law may be unethical to some but not to those who feel that state laws should always be priority. Creon is a man of public policy. He is newly appointed king of Thebes and he must prove his power: Of course you cannot know a man completely,
his character, his principles, sense of judgment,
not till he’s shown his colors, ruling the people, making the laws. (Sophocles 194-197) Creon’s main concern is that the people fear him and respect him. Creon strives for fear and power no matter what the cost. Unlike Antigone, Creon’s loyalty is to his country. The choice he makes to forbid anyone from burying Polynices is only to show the people of Thebes that he will not tolerate traitors and those who to betray him will be punished. Not even at the words of his son does he back down: ‘Relax your anger – change.’; (Sophocles 804) Creon would rather let
his son leave his palace angry than try to compromise. This shows that Creon’s loyalty and dedication lie with public policy and his power over the throne. Finally Creon does decide to take into consideration what Haemon has said about putting Antigone to death. Creon’s change
of heart also comes from the words of Tiresias, the blind prophet. Creon justifies his change of mind because Tiresias is the only man whose revelations have always been true. This at first is
not Crone’s reaction to what Tiresias tells him. Creon insults Tiresias by saying, ‘You and the whole breed of seers are mad for money.’; (Sophocles 1173) Creon also refers to Tiresias of speaking lies and being crazy. Creon eventually has a change of mind because he comes to the realization that Tiresias has never been wrong before and he probably isn’t wrong this time. At this point it is too late, Creon’s fate is already determined. His hesitation and pride has cost him his family.
In the end Antigone and Creon with completely different motives and passions in the begging of the story end with the same fate. In Readings on Sophocles, they say that Sophocles ‘touched a nerve that fascinated and moved audiences.’; (23) This fascination was ‘the confrontation between the laws enacted by the state and society and those larger and more eternal natural laws that are the birthright of human beings.’; (23) Antigone predicts hers in the begging knowing she will die. Did she die a hero? In my eyes she died standing up for something she believed in, she died for her family. I hope that I never live in a society where the laws of the land would take away my right to choose. Antigone’s desire to stand up for her family isn’t unjust. She is merely giving her brother a respectful burial, a respectful end to his somewhat undignified life. The edict that Creon imposes upon the land of Thebes is just in the sense that he will not tolerate traitors. This he has a right to impose upon the land, but he does not have the right to say that his family can not give a man a respectful burial. So in the end I do believe that Antigone had cause to defy the edict. Choices will always be a part of our life, what we so with those choices will determine our future as they did in the case of Creon and Antigone.
David Bender, Bruno Leone, Scott Barbour, Bonnie Szumski, Don Nardo, eds. Readings
of Sophocles. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Sir Richard C. Jebb, E. S. Shuckburgh, abs. Introduction. Antigone. By Shuckburgh.
New York: Press Syndicate of the U of Cambridge, 1987
Sophocles. ‘Antigone.’; The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard
Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Compay, Inc., 1995. 632-667